Thursday, October 11, 2012

Michelle Shocked @ The Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 10th October 2012



It must be incredibly tempting when you find fame...or fame finds you...to wrap your lips around Mammon’s todger (does Mammon have a todger...hmmm...probably) and suck for all you’re worth. Gigs for dictators, advertising campaigns for vivisectionists, tours supporting Coldplay...you can see the appeal. Mucho filthy lucre, even more FAME...more filthy lucre etc repeat until you drown under mountains of dosh.  Happily there are artists who reject the streets paved with gold and instead choose to wander down the alleyways of controversy and Michelle Shocked’s right up there with the best of them. Arrested way back in 1984 for demonstrating against corporations who sought to buy favours from political powers she...and they for that matter...are still at it today and our ‘chelle was last banged up as recently as November 2011 during the Occupy protests. Her recording career’s been pretty unconventional too, kicking off with the Campfire Tapes which were literally recorded on a Sony Walkman around a campfire one night then initially released without her permission.

Fast Forward (hmmmm...anyone under the age of 30 probably won’t recall the ‘joy’ of having to fast forward a tape) a quarter of a century or so and her gigs still retain that glorious sense of intimacy and spontaneity. After gamely trying to get us to all agree upon and sing a Birmingham folk song (does such a thing exist? I guess it did at one time but whatever it was it’s now sadly long lost) the best someone could come up with was UB40’s Red Red Wine. It’s all part of Shocked’s Folkeoke concept which opens up all the shows on her current tour, the thinking being that the community that sings together sticks together, particularly important during the tough times...and let’s face it these are. It broke the ice nicely though leading into a crowd pleasing run through some well loved Shocked classics including Anchorage, Memories Of East Texas and Graffiti Limbo, a song inspired by the death of Michael Stewart, a young black graffiti artist way back in the 80s (basically he was murdered by the police). Just in case any of us were naive enough to think that such dodgy dealings were stamped out when ol’ Obama came to power she highlighted the current case of Bradley Manning, the whistle blower who revealed some of the US army’s less impressive moments. His reward? Indefinite incarceration in, according to Shocked, some pretty inhuman conditions. Perhaps surprisingly it turns out that Shocked’s no fan of Obama. She’s not got a lot of time for Romney either, wisely figuring that they’re both nothing more than mere puppets anyway.


If all this makes the gig sound about as much fun as box set of Party Political Broadcasts relax, it wasn’t. Like our own St Billy Bragg Shocked has a knack of opening our eyes to the less palatable aspects of society without sending us to sleep. In Shocked’s case it’s her self-deprecating charm and Texan hillbilly drawl that helps the medicine go down and, with the vast majority of the audience clearly more disciples than mere fans, it all went down a treat. She’s as honest as they come too. After a brief intermission (the show lasted over 2 hours) she chatted openly about her current relationship with artist David Willardson. They’ve been together for years following Michelle’s “disastrous” marriage to US journalist Bart Bull. It seems that, despite being loved and in love, Willardson won’t “put a ring on it” and Shocked calmly reflected that his repeated failure to propose might lead to the end of the relationship. It’s a little surprising that she views marriage so seriously but then again maybe you can take the girl outta small town America but not small town America outta the girl eh? 


Aside from group therapy part two focussed on Shocked’s latest project (in collaboration with the marriage-phobic Mr Willardson), Indelible Women. As the title implies it’s a series of portraits – paintings and songs – about women who’ve made a lasting impression on the world. Tonight Michelle unveiled Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Frida Kahlo and herself (also she failed to sing her own song). It’s perhaps been easy to view Shocked as nothing more than another protest singer, albeit a pretty good one, but these new songs reveal a surprising degree of musical savviness and an innate ability to capture the essence of the subject just as effectively as Willardson’s paintings. The Holiday tune cleverly referenced her theme song, Strange Fruit, the Monroe track had a little of that boopoopadoop-ness that Marilyn used in I Just Want To Be Loved By You and Kahlo’s track captured the tempestuous love affair between her and husband Diego Rivera. Tonight the tunes were just backed by piano and guitar but you can imagine how they’d sound more fleshed out. It could well be the album that makes an equally indelible mark on her career.

New stuff over with there was time for a little more politics and economics, now ain’t the place to go over it but all you really need to know is that the ‘system’s’ as rotten as two week old dead cat in the middle of a Texan heatwave...and ultimately it’s just as likely to survive. Scary stuff eh? The last quarter of the show was request time, with Fogtown, VFD, Winter Wheat, Patch Eye and Meg and On The Greener Side all getting a well appreciated airing. One enthusiastic soul demanded Anchorage...again...and ‘chelle obliged. The crowd soon took over vocal duties though, “You don’t need me” she hollered. Given the obvious love in the room though she couldn’t be more wrong. There was an encore...and boy...what an encore. Moving into the middle of the crowd she sang Steve Goodman’s searing anti war anthem The Ballad Of Penny Evans unaccompanied, her voice a mix of rage, pain and raw power...as devastating a vocal performance as I think I’ve ever heard. ‘Chelle Shocked? You bet. 

PS: By popular demand here's a video...well, more sound than anything else...of the aforementioned Ballad. My pleasure...


video



4 comments:

Russ L said...

I am desperate for some footage of that rendition of "The Ballad Of Penny Evans" to appear on the internets.

I saw people filming it, it must appear here some time...

The Baron said...

Hi Russ, happy to help. I actually recorded this bit, you can't see much but you can hear it! Enjoy...

Russ L said...

Aha! Great stuff.

I didn't spot you at this one. I wasn't being coy in the last comment - when I said "I saw people filming it", I didn't mean to imply "and by 'people' I am referring to YOU so get on with it"...

The Baron said...

Ha! I know that. I didn't see you either, but then again I was lurking at the front near the speakers like a big creepy lurking thing. That Ballad Of Penny Evans performance was pretty special...